Disclaimer: I don't own anything, please don't sue.
Notes: As part of my drabbles series, Heroes in 100 Words (see my profile if you're interested in reading), I wanted to write about Coulson's return because I firmly believe that he was only mostly dead in the movie. But since Phil is so awesome, he refused to be contained to only 500 words, so then came this. Hope you enjoy.
By the time he finished re-filling out his personnel paperwork at SHIELD headquarters, it was nearly two in the afternoon. He made his way to Stark Tower as quickly as he could and prepared himself for the reactions he would receive. He knew which of the team members he was most worried about—the one Phil had spent the most time and close-calls with. Odds were Barton already knew. Five bucks said he was in the air shafts above Fury's office when Coulson was stuck in there all morning being forced to re-watch videos for Human Resources. Because actually being dead for eight minutes and forced to live away from everyone you've associated with for years wasn't punishment enough.
Coulson started his hunt in the kitchen, because food is one of Clint's favorites, but instead of finding Barton, Phil discovered a shocked Bruce Banner. The good doctor stepped away from his brewing herbal tea and extended his hand with a smile. "Good to see you, Agent."
"Thank you, Doctor." Phil tried his best to ignore how the other man attempted to subtly look around the edges of his eyes, probably for signs of a mask or scars from some sort of reconstructive surgery.
"Any chance I can get you to come back to the lab with me for some tests?"
Phil sighed. "Doctor Banner, I promise it is actually me. There are some other things I need to take care of first, and then if you still feel compelled to prove that I'm telling the truth and am not an imposter, alien or android, then I will be happy to help."
Phil shook his head, "I'm shocked Stark or Barton haven't keep you all up to date on the SHIELD conspiracy theories about me."
A small, sad smile crossed Bruce's mouth, "We don't talk about you. At least not in front of Natasha and Clint."
Coulson nodded at that bit of information. "Do you know where they are?"
"Fantastic," Coulson muttered as he exited the kitchen and made his way back to the bank of elevators.
On the way down the corridor, he heard a familiar voice approaching him. Stark was, to unfamiliar eyes, talking to himself. But Coulson knew he was mid-conversation with Jarvis. When Tony rounded the corner and spotted Phil, the conversation didn't cease. Not even the sight of a dead man was enough to keep Stark quiet. He simply pushed his welding goggles up onto his forehead and leaned in closely to Phil's face.
"I want the schematics rendered by tonight," Tony ordered as he tentatively poked Phil in the left shoulder. "And call Pepper. Tell her she lost the bet and owes me a grand. Now about retuning the Mark Four's repulsors…"
His words and steps continued on past Coulson who shook his head with a slight smile. That had to be one of the easiest interactions he'd ever had with Tony, and he had to fight the urge to run to keep it that way.
As he reached out to press the down button, he heard footsteps behind him fall short.
Phil couldn't help but to smirk ever so slightly. To know that your childhood hero could recognize you from thirty feet away when your back was to him was a nice feeling. "Hello, Captain Rogers."
"But you're… they said…"
"I was, for a few minutes anyway. It was decided that it would be best for team unity if you didn't know they were able to resuscitate me."
Rogers's jaw settled into a hard line. "They lied to us?"
"Yes." The military ingrained in Coulson that simple, straightforward answers were the best to give, even if they were harsh.
"And you were under orders not to contact anyone?"
"Yes." He watched Rogers nod and was immensely grateful for the other man's service record. The Captain knew all too well about having to follow orders even when everything inside you wants to defy them. But since this decision wasn't putting the team into physical danger, what could Coulson do?
"Can you wait here a second? I have something for you."
Coulson worked his mouth before answering. He really needed to talk to Barton for the sanity and safety of everyone, but his inner child won out. "As long as it won't be more than a minute."
Steve smiled and nodded before turning to run back to his quarters. Coulson pulled out his phone while waiting to see if he had any messages waiting on him. There were only emails regarding his paperwork from this morning. He wondered how long it would take for everyone to realize he was back and begging him for help to settle the impossible. He should enjoy the reprieve for as long as it could last.
"Here it is," Rogers announced as he came running back up to Coulson. In his hands was a box that looked like it once held reams of paper. One glance at its contents and Coulson couldn't help but grin.
"What's all this?"
"It's yours. Your cards you asked me to sign, they were in your pocket when Loki… you know. I'm pretty sure they aren't in mint condition anymore, but I can still sign them if you want. I felt bad that you'd lost your collection. When I heard you were on your way back, I went through all my old things they hid away in storage all this time. It's stuff I don't need or I can't… still. Anyway, it's yours if you want it."
There were article clippings, pictures from USO shows, posters, a sketchbook, and photos. Coulson's research let him easily attach names to the faces in Rogers' former unit—men who should still be alive and young in Steve's eyes. Coulson desperately wished his parents knew he was alive so he could call his dad, the man who first introduced him to World War II's history and heroes, and brag about the amazing gift that had just been placed in his hands.
He also wondered where all of this stuff had been hiding. Coulson was fairly certain he'd managed to find all the information relating to his hero, but somehow he'd missed this treasure trove.
"Thank you," he whispered. "This means a lot. If you ever want it back—"
Rogers waved him off. "All yours."
Coulson nodded. "Not that I'm not grateful, I truly am, but I need to go talk to a couple of people who are undoubtedly pissed at me. I don't want them setting this stuff on fire as part of their revenge. Do you mind?"
"Of course not," Steve answered as he took the box back. "I'll have it put in your quarters." He turned to start back down the corridor before throwing a "Good luck" over his shoulder.
"I'm going to need it," Phil muttered to himself.
He entered the elevator and moved down five floors to the training center. The doors opened to reveal a Norse god.
"Son of Coul!" was bellowed before Thor's arms wrapped tightly around Phil's upper body.
"Thor. Can't. Breathe."
"My apologies, fine sir." Thor deposited gently—for him anyway—back to the ground. His blue eyes locked on to Coulson's, full of sadness and anxiety. "I must also apologize for the actions of my brother. Know if I had not been encaged in the steel box, I would have stopped his madness."
Coulson shook his head, "What happened is not your fault. There's no need for you to apologize. I was fully aware of Loki's capabilities and what might happen. Few things or people can stop me when I put my mind to something."
Thor smiled. "We have that in common, you and I."
"I would love to catch up, but I need to speak with the rest of the team. Please excuse me." Phil continued on into the gym. At the far right corner was another elevator that would take him down to the shooting range. As the elevator doors opened into the short hallway leading the range, Phil was greeted with a knife embedding itself in the wall a hairsbreadth from his right ear. "I actually don't have any ear hair to trim, but thank you for the offer." As soon as the sentence was spoken, Natasha sent a matching knife to land next to his left ear. Coulson reached up and removed the weapons before moving down the hallway where she was pacing in front of the shooting range's entrance. "Natasha—"
"Don't. Just don't. You weren't the one who had to tell him that you were dead. You haven't been the one trying to keep him together while he fights off the guilt of helping Loki kill you."
Coulson shook his head. "That's not what happened."
"You know that, and I know that, but do you think his screwed up, guilt-ridden brain can comprehend it?"
Phil looked down at his shoes. Barton had displayed time and again guilt complexes whenever he thought he'd let one of his team members into unnecessary danger, whether or not he actually did. The man would sacrifice himself ten times over, and nearly had on several occasions, before letting someone else take the fall. "How bad is he?"
"We caught wind that Fury was flying to Paris for a meeting. We found out it was with you an hour after Fury left the café to make his proposal. He's been down here ever since."
"Natasha, that was nineteen hours ago."
She shrugged in response.
"Who else knows he's done this?"
"I've scared the others away as much as I could. If you hadn't shown up when you did, I don't know how much more deflection I could've managed."
"If I hadn't shown up when I did, he would run himself into the ground from exhaustion. He has to be pushing the limits as it is."
"Since when has that ever stopped him from being an idiot?"
"Fair point." He handed her back her knives. "Anything important I should know before going in there?"
"Stark built him an automated arrow retrieval system, so he basically has unlimited ammunition. He hasn't slept in over day, eaten in twenty hours, and if I didn't keep him contained in there, he'd probably be hunting down Fury. Oh, and this."
Before Coulson saw her arm start to move, she slapped his left ear. Just as quickly, she then placed a kiss on each of his cheeks.
"Don't do that to us again."
Coulson nodded. That was as fuzzy and warm of a reception as he could've hoped from her. But that still had the potential to change if he didn't handle this next conversation correctly. Taking a deep breath, he swung the door into the range and stepped through. He made it seven feet before Hawkeye, a constant motion of loosing arrow after arrow, pivoted and stuck one at Phil's feet. The agent raised his hands, letting him know that he wouldn't step any closer. "I take it you're mad at me."
Again, Barton diverted his attention from the targets on the far end of the range and planted an arrow just outside Coulson left shoe. Phil paused before speaking again to take the time to really look at his asset. He wanted to do it when he walked into the range, but was on guard in case Barton decided to aim arrows at his head instead of the floor.
Sweat drenched Clint's shirt, arms and head. Despite the impeccable rate and aim he successfully firing one arrow after another, Coulson could easily spot the shaky signs of fatigue in the man's back, shoulders, and arms. "Use your words, Barton."
Another arrow hit the floor, this time just outside Phil's right shoe. Coulson shook his head as began to recognize the code Clint fell into when he didn't want to talk. Arrows to the left meant "yes", while shots to the right "no".
"Do you think what happened was your fault?"
Another arrow landed to his left.
With a hoarse cry, Barton threw his bow down range. His shoulders slumped as he tried to regain his breath. "Forgive me," he whispered.
"You want me to forgive you?" Phil asked.
Clint nodded. His back to Coulson, eyes on the ground.
Barton spun on his heel, eyes wild.
"No, I will not forgive you, because you've done nothing wrong. Other than possibly damaging yet another bow just now. You know the cost for the next one will have to come out your paycheck when you break things on purpose like that."
Clint didn't move, instead just sucked in air and clenched his jaw.
"You're not going to talk so I will," Coulson continued. "No, I will not forgive you, because you did nothing wrong. You were compromised. You were not in control. You did not willingly help Loki. You did not kill me or cause my death. You have nothing to be forgiven for."
Clint's eyes fell back to the floor. He stood there for a second before exhaustion settled in and drove him to sit on the ground rather abruptly.
Slowly, Coulson stepped towards him. As much as he could liken dealing with Stark being on the same lines as reasoning with a spoiled seven-year-old, Clint could be so much worse. Barton's childhood set him up to think taking abuse was normal, that things were usually his fault. A childhood full of trauma built him into a man who was emotionally as delicate and high strung as his bow.
Phil knelt down beside the other man and gently rested a hand on his shoulder. Neither man said a word for a moment.
"Here's what's going to happen now. You're going to go upstairs to eat, shower, and sleep—in that order. You will stop beating yourself up over this, or so help me, I'll make the way I mother-henned you after Seoul look like neglect. Got it?"
Clint barely nodded.
"Good. Now let's get out of here before Natasha comes barging in and kills both of us for taking too long in here." Coulson stuck his right arm underneath Barton's left and hauled both of them to their feet and out the door.